Herpes Virus Facts
There are many different viruses in the herpes family, here we focus on the Herpes simplex virus (HSV) which is the most common and the cause of conditions like genital herpes, cold sores, ocular (eye) herpes and herpes whitlow of the fingers.
Answers to questions about the Herpes simplex virus (HSV):
- What is Herpes?
- How is Herpes Spread?
- Is genital herpes common?
- How do you know if you are infected with genital herpes?
- Diagnosis & Testing
- Treating and Managing Herpes
- Identifying Your HSV Type
- Conditions confused with Herpes
- How can herpes be prevented?
What is Herpes?
Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV; Herpes Simplex 1 (HSV1) and Herpes Simplex 2 (HSV2).
HSV1 or mouth herpes are commonly in the form of cold sores on and around the mouth. HSV2 or genital herpes is a much more intense strand commonly found on the genitals. However BOTH types can be found on the mouth or genital areas. It is possible to be infected by both HSV 1 and 2. Being infected by one particular strand does not make you immune to another.
Sunlight is known to trigger cold sore outbreaks, along with stress and other factors. Genital herpes on the other hand is generally considered to be sexually transmitted.
Herpes is most easily spread when a sore is present, but, it is also often spread at other times too. Some people notice itching, tingling or other sensations before they see anything on their skin.
These are called "Prodromal Symptoms" and they warn that the virus may be present on the skin. Herpes is most likely to be spread from the time these first symptoms are noticed until the area is completely healed and the skin looks normal again. Contact with the infected area (including oral, vaginal, or anal sex) is very risky during this time.
One kind of complication involves spreading the virus from the location of an outbreak to other places on the body by touching the sore(s). The fingers, eyes, and other body areas can accidentally become infected in this way.
Preventing self-infection is simple. Do not touch the area during an outbreak. If you do, wash your hands as soon as possible with soap and warm water. This will help prevent the virus from spreading further.
The spreading of genital herpes through inanimate objects, such as soap, towels, clothing, bed sheets, toilet seats, and spa surfaces is highly unlikely because the genital herpes virus cannot live very long outside of the body. Herpes is not spread through vaginal fluids, blood or semen, or like a flu virus that you can get through the air. Herpes is generally spread by direct contact.
Herpes can be spread by the following situations:
- Kissing, touching and caressing infected areas
- Sexual contact with the infected area (vaginal, oral, or anal sex)
- Skin-to-skin contact with the infected area can transmit HSV-1 and HSV-2
- Kissing someone if you have a cold sore can transfer the virus and the person you kiss can then contract herpes in the area kissed
- The virus can be transmitted to your partner if you have active genital herpes and have vaginal or anal intercourse
- If you have a cold sore and put your mouth on a partner's genitals (oral sex), the partner can be infected with genital herpes. Consequently, oral sex should be avoided if one partner has a facial herpes attack.
- People who experience an episode of herpes, either facial or genital, should consider themselves infectious from the start of the episode up until the healing of the last ulcer
- Occasionally, one partner in a long-term relationship may develop symptoms of herpes for the first time. Often this is due to one or both of the partners being carriers of HSV and not knowing it
- From mother to baby during pregnancy or at birth. However, the baby is protected in the womb by a mother's antibodies if she already has herpes before becoming pregnant. Also, the likelihood of having an outbreak at the time of delivery is generally very low - most women with genital herpes are able to have a natural vaginal birth without complications. If your doctor is not supportive of natural birthing simply because of a history of genital herpes (provided there is no sign of an active infection at the time of, or near to, the birth) it may be beneficial to seek further professional opinions from other midwives or doctors if birthing naturally is important to you. It is possible and happens without any problem for most women.
Yes. An estimated 40 million people have genital herpes which makes it a chronic viral infection. About 500,000 new people get symptomatic herpes each year and there are even more people without symptoms.
It has been estimated that about 20% of the population have genital herpes and 90% have oral herpes (cold sores).
The only way to accurately know if a condition is caused by the herpes virus is to visit a health care provider for a professional diagnosis. To read how herpes is diagnosed please click here.
Many people who are infected with genital herpes (HSV2) are sometimes not aware of being infected. Symptoms of the primary episode, however, can be quite pronounced, the first primary episode usually occurs within two weeks after the virus is transmitted.
Lesions usually heal within two to four weeks of the outbreak. Other symptoms may include a second occurrence of lesions, or flu-like symptoms including:
- swollen glands
- some people infected with HSV-2, however, do not have lesions, or may suffer only very mild, almost unnoticeable symptoms which are sometimes mistaken for a rash or insect bites.
A primary episode of genital herpes can cause several symptomatic recurrences a year (average 4 or 5); with most recurrences more prevalent within the first year following the first episode.
If you know that you or your partner are infected with herpes you should first become aware of how herpes can be spread and take precautions to prevent the virus from spreading. Always visit your local health care provider for professional information and guidance.
Genital herpes is considered a serious form of infection and should always be diagnosed by a medical professional. If you suspect that you have herpes please consult a Doctor or Medical Professional.
There are several tests that are used to diagnose herpes, some are more accurate then others. Lots of people need to be tested more than once.
If active symptoms are present and the sores are not healed one should request a specific virus culture or assay for the herpes virus. A Viral culture looks for the presence of the virus in the lesion. This method is very specific and does not frequently give a positive result when something else is the culprit.
The viral culture often misses herpes even when it is present. Often a patient who has received a negative culture result will be asked to come back again when a new genital lesion appears so the culture can be tried a second or third time.
Blood tests are generally used in cases where no visible symptoms are present. A blood test works by detecting the presence of herpes antibodies. There is a possibility that the virus will not show up in a blood test, and a positive result is not always indicative that a person has genital herpes.
Firstly, after the first exposure to herpes, a person may take several weeks to develop the antibodies that the test looks for. Usually, it takes two weeks to three months after exposure to herpes for antibodies to appear in the blood. Some blood tests detect antibodies sooner than others. However, once antibodies are found they remain in the body for life.
Secondly, blood tests cannot tell the difference between the two types of herpes, HSV-1 and HSV-2. For this reason, anyone seeking an accurate diagnosis of genital herpes must be sure to get a "type-specific" serologic test, which can accurately distinguish HSV-2 from HSV-1 antibodies. Most commercially available kit assays currently cannot make this distinction despite their claims.
Please seek immediate professional help if genital herpes is suspected. Some of the available diagnostic procedures become less reliable the longer you wait.
If you are concerned that a diagnosis for herpes is incorrect you should consult your health care provider for their professional opinion, and request another test to be taken if you feel you require further confirmation.
Treating and Managing Herpes
For any person that has active outbreaks of herpes, genital herpes or cold sores there are many treatment options to help speed up the healing time of lesions and to reduce the frequency and severity of recurrences.
Zovirax, Acyclovir, Valtrex and Famvir are prescription drugs that can be helpful for some people. These drugs can either be taken everyday as a "suppressant" or just when an outbreak occurs, referred to as "episodic". These drugs do have possible side-effects and can be costly in some countries.
Dynamiclear is a highly effective topical treatment that has been clinically proven to rapidly eliminate the symptoms of Herpes simplex outbreaks. It is a real relief for anyone who is unsatisfied with the results, or lack of result, that they are currently getting from the treatment they are using. Dynamiclear has helped hundreds of thousands of people in countries throughout the world over the last decade and a half.
In-vitro clinical testing of the Dynamiclear active shows that the medicine will destroy 99.9% of herpes viral particles on contact. Further clinical trials in humans demonstrated that an application of Dynamiclear results in a significant reduction in symptoms after only one single application. Interestingly there were no incidents of any side-effects or adverse events reported in the study. The active ingredient in Dynamiclear has been shown to inactivate viruses in the Herpesvirus and Arenavirus families. Studies suggest that the Dynamiclear formulation damages the DNA bonds, causing DNA strand breaks. This mechanism, unlike pharmaceutical drugs where DNA replication is suppressed, renders the herpetic virus' ability to replicate obsolete by providing nonviable DNA templates (Appendix 2, Sagripanti et al. 1997).
Diet and life-style changes can also be beneficial in managing herpes and it is a very good idea to strengthen the immune system in order to help your body combat the virus. Good rest, exercise and fresh fruit and vegetable juices will help strengthen the immune system.
With any disease or health condition an approach to improving diet and nutrition should be taken. An appropriate diet for herpes that is high in lysine and low in arginine, with vitamin supplements such as chelated zinc, bioflavonoids and vitamin c, may be beneficial for those suffering from viral diseases, in particular the herpes virus.
There is scientific research to support a theory that arginine, an amino acid, can aggravate herpes and bring on an outbreak. Foods containing arginine include nuts, protein shakes, chocolate and caffeine. If herpes outbreaks are a problem for you, see whether cutting back on these foods or eliminating them from your diet helps relieve your symptoms.
It has been found that the amino acid Lysine retards virus growth, so you should include in your diet foods high in Lysine and decrease the foods high in L-Arginine (the amino acid that supports the herpes virus).
Below are some simple home remedies:
Epsom salts are best if you have them available. You can buy Epsom salts from most local supermarkets or pharmacies. Salt water can be used to wash the infected area and help to clean, soothe and dry the sores.
Use 1 teaspoon of salt in 600ml of water or a generous handful in a bath tub. A lengthy swim in the ocean will also have a similar effect.
When using Dynamiclear, it is best to make the application AFTER the area is clean and dry and then leave the area to heal without disturbance. The drier you keep the area (after the application) the quicker it will heal, so avoid getting the area wet for best results.
General Pain Relievers
Include simple analgesics such as aspirin and paracetamol. Ice can be soothing if applied directly to the sores.
By wearing loose underclothes that are preferably cotton (not nylon) during an outbreak, you can help minimize discomfort and allow healing.
Relieve Painful Urination
For anyone experiencing extreme pain when urinating, the process can be less painful when done in a cool bath and it is important to remember to drink plenty of fluids as this dilutes the urine.
Set on the "cool" setting, a hair dryer can give instant cooling relief to painful sores.
Can be soothing if wrapped in a towel and applied directly to the sores.
Bach Flower Remedies may be used to ease the emotional stress of herpes, particularly Rescue Remedy. St John's Wort (taken internally) may be helpful for stress and anxiety, but does have contra-indications with some medications so please check with your Naturopath or Health Care Provider before taking.
Symptoms do vary, with some people having very severe symptoms and others having no real noticeable symptoms. Early symptoms may include:
- a burning sensation in the genitals
- lower back pain
- pain when urinating
- flu-like symptoms
- small red bumps may appear in the genital area following earlier symptoms, later developing into painful blisters, which crust over, form a scab, and heal
Genital Herpes - The first outbreak
Symptoms develop usually within 2 to 20 days after contact, but could continue up to 2 weeks. The first infection may be so mild it goes unnoticed, whilst in some cases, the first attack causes visible sores. Subsequent recurrences of the virus may cause an outbreak of blisters.
Healing of the skin does not normally leave scarring. The virus then retreats into the nerves and lies dormant. If you are lucky enough to catch the virus in its early stages act as soon as you can.
When it gets into skin cells the virus reproduces itself and starts to multiply, making the skin red and sensitive. Blisters or bumps may appear on the genital area, the blisters first opening and then healing with the regeneration of new skin tissue.
The infected areaIs usually painful and may itch, burn or tingle, during the outbreak.
Other symptoms include:
- Swollen lymph glands
- Painful inflamed blisters develop around infected area
- Muscle ache
- Vaginal or penis discharge
- Infection of the urethra causing a burning sensation during urination
The first episode is the most severe, with most episodes lasting 10 - 21 days. A warning sign (prodrome) such as tingling is experienced by many people in recurring outbreaks.
Should any of these symptoms occur, consult your doctor or other health care provider immediately. Genital herpes should be diagnosed professionally.
Not everyone knows whether they have HSV1 or HSV2 and in certain situations that information could be relevant. In a situation where both partners have HSV-2 precautions should still be made to prevent the spread of the disease to other 'uninfected' areas. If one partner has genital HSV1 and the other has HSV2, each might get infected with a second type.
Diagnosing genital HSV1 is difficult because the infection seldom recurs. Since many people have HSV1 orally, a finding of HSV1 by Western blot serology (blood test) would not positively identify genital infection.
A Western blot confirms if you have HSV2. If you are seronegative (negative by blood test) for type 2, but positive for type 1, that gives you a strong clue as to the cause of your outbreaks (seropositive for type 1 but not type 2, with infrequent recurring genital herpes is probably genital HSV1).
Listed below are conditions that are sometimes mistaken for herpes:
Canker sores (aphthous ulcers)
Usually occur inside the mouth, are grey with a distinct edge and usually heal within 10 to 14 days without treatment.
Bacterial or yeast infections
Sometimes confused with genital herpes, but do not usually produce blistering.
A highly infectious bacterial disease, more common among children often producing crusty blisters.
A bacterial infection, causes chancres sometimes mistaken for blisters caused by genital herpes. Unlike genital herpes, Syphilis does not usually produce a cluster of blisters, and it usually responds well to antibiotics.
Molluscum contagiosum (molluscum)
Like herpes, molluscum is a viral infection of the skin. Unlike herpes, molluscum produces lesions that are raised, with a central dimple.
If you suspect that you have a health problem please consult your doctor or other health care provider immediately. Genital herpes, and other conditions, should be diagnosed professionally.
These steps can help to reduce the risk of infection and transmission:
Tell Your Partner.
It is important to understand what herpes is and how it can be prevented. You and your partner will need to discuss which precautions are best and the social and emotional impacts of herpes.
Avoid sex during outbreaks as herpes is most contagious during this time.
Many couples have had sexual relations for years without transmitting herpes. Some simply avoid having sexual contact when signs or symptoms are present, while others use condoms or other protection between outbreaks to help protect against asymptomatic shedding.
Limit the number of sexual partners
- By having sex with a non-infected partner who has sex only with you (mutual monogamy).
- Use Latex Condoms between outbreaks
- Condoms offer useful protection against herpes protecting or covering the mucous membranes, the most likely sites of infection.
The facts on condoms and foams
Laboratory studies show that:
- The herpes virus does not pass through latex condoms and, when properly used, latex condoms are likely to reduce your risk of spreading or getting herpes
- Even the best condoms do not guarantee total safety
- When herpes sores occur in places not covered by a condom the condom is of little help in preventing transmission, if any
- Condoms and foams should not be relied upon when herpes sores or symptoms are present
- Spermicidal foams and jellies may offer additional protection. Spermicides used in contraceptive foams, film and gels kill or neutralize HSV in laboratory tests and may provide some protection when used in the vagina (recommended dose the same as for contraception)
- Some contraceptive foams contain ingredients (such as nonoxynol-9) that kill the herpes virus and other STDs in test tubes
- Foams are best used along with condoms, not in place of condoms
- Condoms do not provide 100 percent protection because a lesion may be found which the condom did not cover. Used consistently, however, condoms are the best available form of prevention aside from abstinence.
Because of the highly contagious nature of this virus avoid any contact with an active herpes site, even if the blister is elsewhere on the body and not directly at a sexual organ.
The fingers, eyes and other body areas can be accidentally infected by touching the sores.
Preventing self-infection is simple:
- Do not touch the area during an outbreak
- If you do, wash your hands immediately
Women with any sexually transmitted disease (STD) may be at greater risk of developing cervical cancer than other women. All women should have regular Pap tests at least once a year as early cell changes can be detected by Pap smears.
Visit a local sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinic, hospital, doctor or health professional.